1 First impressions
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1 First impressions book
First impressions can be deceptive, particularly the seemingly self-evident. Anthropology takes this axiom seriously in its attempt to combat ethnocentric assumptions. The impression people have when they see the extensive tropical forests that cover the island of New Guinea is that here is a rich and varied resource: rainforest in all its topically fabled biodiversity. They go on from this to assume that exploitation of it will occupy local populations considerably, hunting animals and collecting edible wild plants. A popular misconception is that they are home to hunter-gatherers, whereas contemporarily there are few, if any. When I ﬁrst saw the forests of the Highlands, ﬂying low over them in a light aircraft, they excited my imagination in this vein. While I knew from my preparatory reading that no hunter-gatherers inhabited the region, nonetheless I expected to ﬁnd that forest exploitation would feature in people’s everyday lives. The extent of my error was unexpected and an object lesson in the danger of ﬁrst impressions, the moral of which may extend beyond today, back into the shadowy prehistoric past.